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比特币,泡沫、骗局和重重问题

更新时间:2018-1-31 21:37:40 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Bubble, Bubble, Fraud and Trouble
比特币,泡沫、骗局和重重问题

The other day my barber asked me whether he should put all his money in Bitcoin. And the truth is that if he’d bought Bitcoin, say, a year ago he’d be feeling pretty good right now. On the other hand, Dutch speculators who bought tulip bulbs in 1635 also felt pretty good for a while, until tulip prices collapsed in early 1637.

有一天,我的理发师问我,他是不是应该把自己所有的钱都投在比特币上。事实是,如果他早早就买了比特币,比如说一年前买的,那么他现在感觉一定很不错。另一方面,1635年购买郁金香球茎的荷兰炒家感觉也相当好,直到1637年初郁金香价格崩溃。

So is Bitcoin a giant bubble that will end in grief? Yes. But it’s a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology. And there’s something to be learned about the times we live in by peeling away that wrapping.

比特币是一个会以失败告终的巨大的泡沫吗?是的。但它是一个包裹在自由主义意识形态之茧中的科技神秘主义泡沫。通过剥去它的包装,我们可以对我们身处的这个时代有一些了解。

If you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard of Bitcoin, it’s the biggest, best-known example of a “cryptocurrency”: an asset that has no physical existence, consisting of nothing but a digital record stored on computers. What makes cryptocurrencies different from ordinary bank accounts, which are also nothing but digital records, is that they don’t reside in the servers of any particular financial institution. Instead, a Bitcoin’s existence is documented by records distributed in many places.

如果你一直生活在山洞里,还没有听说过比特币,那么可以告诉你,它是“加密货币”(cryptocurrency)中最大,也是最著名的例子。加密货币是一种没有实体的资产,只是储存在电脑上的数字记录。普通银行账户其实也是数字记录,然而加密货币的不同之处在于,它们不保存在任何特定金融机构的服务器里。一个比特币的存在是由分布在许多地方的文件所记录的。

And your ownership isn’t verified by proving (and hence revealing) your identity. Instead, ownership of a Bitcoin is verified by possession of a secret password, which — using techniques derived from cryptography, the art of writing or solving codes — lets you access that virtual coin without revealing any information you don’t choose to.

而且,你的所有权并不是通过证明自己的身份(与此同时也泄露了自己的身份)来得到验证。相反,比特币的所有权是通过拥有私钥来验证的,它使用了来自密码学的技术,以及编制代码或解码的艺术,这样你在访问该虚拟货币的时候,就不会泄露任何你不想泄露的信息。

It’s a nifty trick. But what is it good for?

这是个漂亮的把戏。但是适合用来做什么呢?

In principle, you can use Bitcoin to pay for things electronically. But you can use debit cards, PayPal, Venmo, etc. to do that, too — and Bitcoin turns out to be a clunky, slow, costly means of payment. In fact, even Bitcoin conferences sometimes refuse to accept Bitcoins from attendees. There’s really no reason to use Bitcoin in transactions — unless you don’t want anyone to see either what you’re buying or what you’re selling, which is why much actual Bitcoin use seems to involve drugs, sex and other black-market goods.

原则上,你可以使用比特币来进行电子支付。但是,你也可以使用借记卡、PayPal和Venmo等方式来做到这一点——而且最后证明,比特币是一种难用、缓慢、昂贵的支付手段。事实上,就连在比特币大会上有时也会拒绝接受与会者使用比特币支付。在交易中真的没有理由使用比特币——除非你不希望任何人看到你要买什么或者你要卖什么,正因如此,比特币在实际应用中似乎涉及毒品、性和其他黑市产品。

So Bitcoins aren’t really digital cash. What they are, sort of, is the digital equivalent of $100 bills.

所以比特币不是真正的数字现金。它们其实是一种100美元钞票的数字版。

Like Bitcoins, $100 bills aren’t much use for ordinary transactions: Most shops won’t accept them. But “Benjamins” are popular with thieves, drug dealers and tax evaders. And while most of us can go years without seeing a $100 bill, there are a lot of those bills out there — more than a trillion dollars’ worth, accounting for 78 percent of the value of U.S. currency in circulation.

和比特币一样,100美元的钞票在普通交易中没有多大用处:大多数商店不愿接受它们。但是绰号“本杰明”的百元大钞在小偷、毒贩和逃税者们当中大受欢迎。虽然我们大多数人可能很多年都见不到一张百元大钞,但是这样的钞票其实有很多——价值超过一万亿美元,占美国流通货币价值的78%。

So are Bitcoins a superior alternative to $100 bills, allowing you to make secret transactions without lugging around suitcases full of cash? Not really, because they lack one crucial feature: a tether to reality.

所以比特币就是百元大钞的高级替代品吗,有了它,你就用不着拖着装满现金的行李箱去搞秘密交易了?也不尽然,因为比特币缺乏一个关键特征:一种现实的束缚。

Although the modern dollar is a “fiat” currency, not backed by any other asset, like gold, its value is ultimately backed by the fact that the U.S. government will accept it, in fact demands it, in payment for taxes. Its purchasing power is also stabilized by the Federal Reserve, which will reduce the outstanding supply of dollars if inflation runs too high, increase that supply to prevent deflation. And a $100 bill is, of course, worth 100 of these broadly stable dollars.

尽管现代美元是一种“法定”货币,没有其他任何资产(如黄金)作为保障,但是,美国政府接受以美元支付的税款,事实上,是要求以美元支付税款,这一点最终保障了它的价值。美元的购买力也由美联储(Federal Reserve)保持稳定,如果通货膨胀过高,美联储将减少美元的供应量;为防止通货紧缩,又会增加美元的供应量。一张100美元的钞票的价值当然等同于大致稳定的100美元。

Bitcoin, by contrast, has no intrinsic value at all. Combine that lack of a tether to reality with the very limited extent to which Bitcoin is used for anything, and you have an asset whose price is almost purely speculative, and hence incredibly volatile. Bitcoins lost about 40 percent of their value over the past six weeks; if Bitcoin were an actual currency, that would be the equivalent of a roughly 8,000 percent annual inflation rate.

相比之下,比特币根本没有内在价值。它既缺乏现实束缚,而且用途又非常有限,二者结合起来,导致这种资产的价格几乎等同于纯粹的投机,因此非常不稳定。比特币在过去六周里贬值了40%;如果它是一种实际货币,那么相当于约8000%的年通货膨胀率。

Oh, and Bitcoin’s untethered nature also makes it highly susceptible to market manipulation. Back in 2013 fraudulent activities by a single trader appear to have caused a sevenfold increase in Bitcoin’s price. Who’s driving the price now? Nobody knows. Some observers think North Korea may be involved.

而且,比特币缺乏现实束缚的性质也使得它很容易受到市场操纵。早在2013年,一名交易员的欺诈活动似乎导致比特币价格上涨了七倍。现在是谁在推动价格?没人知道。有观察家认为朝鲜可能会参与其中。

But what about the fact that those who did buy Bitcoin early have made huge amounts of money? Well, people who invested with Bernie Madoff also made lots of money, or at least seemed to, for a long time.

但是那些早期购买比特币的人赚了很多钱,这又是怎么回事呢?这个,和伯尼·麦道夫(Bernie Madoff)一起投资的人也赚了很多钱,至少在很长一段时间里看上去像是赚了很多钱。

As Robert Shiller, the world’s leading bubble expert, points out, asset bubbles are like “naturally occurring Ponzi schemes.” Early investors in a bubble make a lot of money as new investors are drawn in, and those profits pull in even more people. The process can go on for years before something — a reality check, or simply exhaustion of the pool of potential marks — brings the party to a sudden, painful end.

世界顶级泡沫经济专家罗伯特·席勒(Robert Shiller)指出,资产泡沫就像“自然发生的庞氏骗局”。随着新投资者被吸引进来,泡沫的早期投资者赚取了大量金钱,这些利润又吸引了更多的人。这个过程可能会持续好几年,直到发生什么事情——一次残酷现实的提醒,或者根本只是潜在的吸引目标被耗尽了——导致狂欢令人痛苦地戛然而止。

When it comes to cryptocurrencies there’s an additional factor: It’s a bubble, but it’s also something of a cult, whose initiates are given to paranoid fantasies about evil governments stealing all their money (as opposed to private hackers, who have stolen a remarkably high proportion of extant cryptocurrency tokens). Journalists who write skeptically about Bitcoin tell me that no other subject generates as much hate mail.

对于加密货币来说,还有一个额外的因素:它是一个泡沫,但它也是一种狂热信仰,新加入者被灌输了关于邪恶政府会窃取他们所有资金的偏执幻想(相反,私人黑客窃取的大部分是现存的加密货币代币)。对比特币持怀疑态度的记者告诉我,没有什么话题能像比特币这样,制造出那么多的仇恨邮件。

So no, my barber shouldn’t buy Bitcoin. This will end badly, and the sooner it does, the better.

所以,不,我的理发师不应该购买比特币。它肯定会以失败告终,而且这一天来得越早越好。

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